Business Transformation

5 Ways Business Leaders Can Uncover an Industry Gap and Find Success

Ryan Stana

From cruise lines packed with Broadway show performances to one-of-kind music acts that include licensing deals with the likes of Rolling Stone Magazine, live entertainment is evolving and so is the way people want to consume it. 

Reminiscing on the peak of entertainment in 2003, Hairspray won best musical at the Tony Awards, Wicked debuted on Broadway, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII, where Shania Twain, No Doubt and Sting performed the half time show. Years ago, entertainment used to be something consumers would anxiously wait to buy tickets for and spend hours watching acclaimed productions.

Today entertainment is a fully immersive guest experience with multiple moving pieces and touch points designed to create an emotive connection. Creating these cohesive emotional connections necessitates the right expert visionaries and planners. Through my experience with RWS Entertainment Group, I was able to help close the gap within the industry by building something unique and to meet a need—a one-stop-shop entertainment group for performers, technicians, creators and clients, all under one roof. Here’s how other leaders and entrepreneurs can uncover their industry gap, create cost efficiencies, and build a profitable business.

  1. Make Moves When You’re Your Most Fearless Self
    At just 22 years old, I worked at a corporate entertainment company before moving to New York to become an associate producer for a production company. Both experiences were aligned with my passion to create and teach, and after increasing my entertainment industry knowledge, I started understanding the behind-the-scenes work and what it takes to run an effective and profitable business. This led me to open my own business and actively make a change I thought the industry needed.In addition to the pressure of being a new college grad with zero industry reputation, I began to realize you have to make moves when you’re your most fearless self to progress your passions in a profitable way. By combining my learnings with what I was truly passionate about in life, I was able to do the thing that others in the industry weren’t, fill the gap between operations and creative.

    While you might not have decades of knowledge, lean into the valuable experience and unique takeaways you do have, as well as your personal perception. For me, this meant purchasing a briefcase and having my roommates answer business calls until I had employees and an industry reputation of my own. If you have a good idea, years of experience, business loans or anything else other execs told you were needed to start a business, that’s great, but often acting with your gut can offer the same level of success.

  2. Create a Business with Equal Creative and Operational Knowledge
    Growing up, I loved visiting theme parks for the one thing most kids weren’t focused on—the live shows. I loved how they offered another form of entertainment outside of rides. It gave me the idea that multiple forms of entertainment can coexist in one experience, from hospitality and retail to food and technology. This understanding is crucial in bringing cohesive, emotive experiences to consumers.I even dreamt of becoming a Broadway performer, but my career ultimately pivoted when I ventured into production. But combing what I knew from performing and production with my first-hand learnings, I discovered that in any creative industry, if there isn’t an equal balance of creativity and operational knowledge, you’ll never be profitable.

    As the world’s largest, full-service provider of visitor attractions and experiences, we found the value in providing endless possibilities to our clients from one team, combining creativity and operational knowledge to bring in-person experiences to life. Ultimately, the company hires more than 8,000 employees globally a year to deliver the best experiences to our clients, which includes cruise ship performances, live shows at theme parks and resorts, seasonal activations, and more.

  3. Figure Out How to Grow Within
    Many times, aspiring entrepreneurs think they need a major capital investment or a number of hired employees to start a business. I’m happy I didn’t take this advice. In my opinion, aspiring entrepreneurs should only spend the money they have. If you start with investor dollars, you will have to pay them back, which means your business is already in a hole.I didn’t hire my first employee until a year after starting my company. Once I did, we quickly realized the key to success is hiring people that can wear multiple hats, as that helps grow the business with fewer staff members. In the world of business and entertainment, it’s important to build a passionate team and look for individuals that demonstrate the following qualities:

    – Excellent communication skills
    – Ability to develop a rapport with both clients and vendors
    – Highly creative and organized
    – Capable of leveraging a proven and specialized area of expertise
    – Enthusiasm to learn new skills
    – Facilitates professional development opportunities and a desire to teach others

    Over time, as your employees learn to wear multiple hats, they will also hone their strongest skillset. Employers can then place these employees in the best fitting position to help the company grow from the inside out.

  4. Maintain Your Goals as Your Business Changes
    I’ve come to realize that as much as the industry changes, your original goal and motivation for success shouldn’t. For example, remember when I wanted to be a Broadway performer? My passion for performing as an adolescent transformed into dreaming of being a Broadway performer, which transformed into teaching others to perform.As the CEO of a creative company, it’s hard not to control the creative direction of a project; however, I’ve learned that a good leader focuses on the original overarching goals to improve all facets of the business. To do that, hiring the right people and putting them in the right roles is key. While I would love to wear multiple hats for the rest of my life and perform and teach while running a business, I’ve learned I can’t move my goals forward if I can’t rely on the team to perform their roles.
  5. Create a Team Culture That Doesn’t Feel Like a Hierarchy
    When I started the business, I felt the need to have a different persona to achieve success. This could be because I was a Midwesterner in my early twenties who didn’t feel they would be treated with the same level of respect as a New York CEO who was decades older. Early on, when my grandmother saw my personality begin to change, she said to me, “Ryan, you will never achieve success if you aren’t proud of where you’ve come from.” This advice stays with me today, and I’ve found that the ability to create lasting connections truly rests on showing people your authentic you.Now, I never want any of my staff to ever lose sight of where they came from, especially the ones who started this journey with me (that first employee is still with us 20 years later). It’s important that the team culture you create doesn’t feel like a hierarchy. One way to do this as a leader is to offer good communication and strong direction to your staff. Here are a few ways to do so:

    – Communicate in black and white, not the grey: By communicating in black and white, you are being transparent and open with your employees. By letting them know what the company goals and expectations are, you will reduce miscommunications down the line.

    – Be clear about time and action: Every company should have a plan for what is desired to be accomplished each quarter. Allow your staff members to be a part of the plan, so they are invested in being part of the journey to success.

    – Honor each other on every level: As much as my employees are honored to work for my company, I’m honored to have them on our team. By recognizing every employee no matter what their role or title, you will create a supportive environment that encourages personal and professional growth, which also propels the growth of the business.

When we started RWS Entertainment Group, our goal was to raise the bar for entertainment at theme parks across America. Never in a million years did I think we would be providing more than 8,000 career opportunities around the world each year to people who are all dedicated to creating lasting memorable experiences.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned a lot and evolved as an entrepreneur. Today, I confidently channel my passions and strengths to fill a gap in the entertainment industry. None of this would be possible without being gutsy, honing in on my creative and operational knowledge, figuring out how to grow from within, maintaining goals and creating a strong team. From one entrepreneur to another, I hope to inspire others to discover new paths toward personal growth and professional success.

Written by Ryan Stana.
Have you read?
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Overcoming the Challenges of Launching a Unique Business by Vanessa Lau.
Critical Mistakes to Avoid in Strategic Communication by Fotis Pantopoulos.
How to Plan Business Travel Effectively in 2023 by Robert Hoffman.
No Means No by Mark Petruzzi.

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Ryan Stana
Ryan Stana is the CEO and founder of RWS Entertainment Group – a leading global entertainment provider. He holds a BFA from the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music and Point Park University. Stana also is an active participant in the entertainment industry, which includes the following accolades: Emmy® Award winner, Top 50 Entrepreneurs in NYC (Time Out New York) list, and Inaugural Notable LGBTQ Executive (Crain's Business Magazine).

Ryan Stana is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.